Upward Bound Celebrates 50 Years of Preparing High School Students for College

Colleen Locke | February 23, 2015
Former Chancellor Sherry Penney and Former Massachusetts Governor William Weld with TRIO and Upward Bound staff and students.

Former Chancellor Sherry Penney and Former Massachusetts Governor William Weld with TRIO and Upward Bound staff and students.

UMass Boston’s Upward Bound Program Started in July 1966

As the University of Massachusetts Boston celebrates its 50th anniversary, Upward Bound, a national program that provides academic support and coaching to low-income high school students, is also turning 50.

UMass Boston received its first Upward Bound grant during the 1965-66 academic year. It opened for business in summer 1966.

Upward Bound Director Kunthary Thai-Johnson says what sets Upward Bound apart from other pre-collegiate programs is that during the summer, students in all stages of high school attend classes on a university campus and stay in residence halls for six weeks, getting them ready for college life. Many of the students will be first in their families to attend college.

“They’re on the UMass Boston campus so they get to see other college students, especially college students who look like them, and they get this sense of ‘I can be here as well,’” Thai-Johnson said.

UMass Boston’s Upward Bound program is an academic-oriented program for Dorchester Academy, Jeremiah E. Burke High School, Madison Park High School, and Excel High School students. Thai-Johnson says the goal is for 100 percent of program graduates to go on to a two- or four-year college program, a mark that has been achieved in each of the last five years.

“We’re trying to get kids in this program to think college is an option. You have to go to college. It’s just a matter of what college you’re going to,” Thai-Johnson said.

The federal government funds 126 students in UMass Boston’s Upward Bound program. Nationwide, more than 80,000 students take part in an Upward Bound program, the first of eight federal college-access programs known as TRIO. Graduates include Oscar nominee Viola Davis, Hall of Fame NBA player Patrick Ewing, and UMass Boston Chancellor J. Keith Motley, who credits his experience in the University of Pittsburgh’s Upward Bound with his career success.

“Upward Bound helps level the playing field for students whose talents would be overlooked, perhaps mine included,” Motley said.

Garvey Pierre graduated from UMass Boston’s Upward Bound program in 2005. He’s now a diplomat/foreign service officer for the U.S. State Department. In Upward Bound, Pierre found a mentor in Director of Programs Terri Slater Morgan.

“Upward Bound helped me navigate through the college application process, which I knew nothing about. What's also underrated and rarely discussed is how important the program was in keeping many of us out of trouble,” Pierre said.

E. Peter Alvarez, a 2002 program graduate, also considers Upward Bound a refuge.

“Upward Bound was essential to my development and growth as a public school student growing up in one of Boston's most dangerous neighborhoods. It gave me a safe refuge in the summer and a safe space to be competitive and smart throughout the school year,” Alvarez said.

A new law school graduate, Alvarez joined the law firm Locke Lord Edwards LLP this fall.

UMass Boston’s Urban Scholars program, which operates with public and private funding, was modeled after Upward Bound in June 1983. UMass Boston is also home to five other TRIO programs: Project REACH, an educational talent search program; the Ronald E. McNair Post-baccalaureate Achievement Program; Upward Bound Math/Science; Veterans Upward Bound; and Student Support Services.

About UMass Boston
Celebrating its 50th anniversary, the University of Massachusetts Boston is deeply rooted in the city's history, yet poised to address the challenges of the future. Recognized for innovative research, metropolitan Boston’s public university offers its diverse student population both an intimate learning environment and the rich experience of a great American city. UMass Boston’s 11 colleges and graduate schools serve more than 16,000 students while engaging local and global constituents through academic programs, research centers, and public service. To learn more, visit www.umb.edu.

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